In the version of the Joseph Smith story that I taught on my mission in Perú, Joseph Smith sees two corporeal beings which Mormons interchangeably call “Heavenly Father” and “Jesus Christ” and “Elohim” and “Jehovah”. But never did I share with prospects of Mormonism the history of the controversy surrounding the doctrine that the Father and the Son were separate, physical, resurrected men. Not because I felt a need to cover it up, but because I didn’t know that I had been lied to about it, either!
Now, while ex-Mormondom and Mormondom were distracted by a revelation that the Church is indeed in possession of Smith’s translating rock, the Brethren have gone just shy of confessing to the whole story of the Nature of God controversy as they announced that they are going to release a volume of “The Joseph Smith Papers” that includes the original printers manuscript of The Book of Mormon. A careful study of that document will unlock this controversy once and for all.
“Naturally they differ in emphasis and detail.”
While Mormon Temple rituals use the Hebrew names “Elohim” (El or Eloh meaning God and -im representing plurality and so literally “Gods”) and “Jehovah” (anglicized from Yahweh meaning “I Am” or “that which self-exists”) I discovered by reading Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that these divine individuals also had Adamic names or names from the language that God used to communicate with Adam long before there was a language like Hebrew. These were “Ahman” (meaning “Man of holiness”) and “Son-Ahman”. Further, Smith taught that all human beings, as spirit-brothers with Christ, were called “sons-Ahman”. There remains no word yet on if women are called “daughters-Ahman” any more than whether or not there should be “daughters of Perdition”.
Clearly, Smith’s vision is said to have involved two figures who were distinct “Personages” with distinguishing features (Jesus has prints in his hands, side and feet while Elohim or Ahman does not) and dialogue (“This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!”) However, previous versions of the First Vision are now admitted to by the Church with the warning that: “The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail.”
One of those details is how many Beings were in the vision!
“and is called the Son because of the flesh.”
Sometimes, we treat Joseph Smith’s claims as separate but it is important to understand the events of Smith’s career in context of one another. There is a reason why the official canon of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints includes failed prophecies in Doctrine and Covenants but does not include Smith’s 1835 sermons in Kirtland, OH that are now called Lectures on Faith. No one knows for certain what those reasons are but there must be a reason why the Church still does not canonize an entire volume of lectures from Smith on the nature of faith, God and how to serve God but a hypothesis might be served in the controversy over this passage:
“There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things…They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or, rather, man was formed after his likeness, and in his image;— he is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father: possessing all the fulness of the Father, or, the same fulness with the Father; being begotten of him, and was ordained from before the foundation of the world to be a propitiation for the sins of all those who should believe on his name, and is called the Son because of the flesh.” (Lectures on Faith pp. 71-72. Emphasis added.)
“I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life.”
This description of the non-corporeal and monotheistic nature of “Ahman” or “the Father” with “Son-Ahman” or “the Son” is consistent with Smith’s original version of the First Vision from 1832, two years after the first edition of The Book of Mormon was printed.
“A piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy way walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life.” (The Joseph Smith Papers, http://josephsmithpapers.org)
“No man hath seen God at any time.”
Even more importantly, the doctrine of the Oneness of the Father and Son is consistent with the Bible and with Trinitarian Christianity, which Joseph Smith was already familiar with.
Note the familiar wording in this passage and compare to Smith’s 1835 quote:
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
“No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us…
“Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world…
“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
“And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” (1 John 4:9-22, KJV)
“I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.”
But an even earlier document than Smith’s original First Vision story also makes the claim that Jehovah (Christ) is both the Father and the Son. Published in its first draft in 1830, that document was The Book of Mormon:
“And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.
“And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?
“And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
“And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?
“And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.
“And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
“Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.
“And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
“Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.” (The Book of Mormon, Ether 3:8-16, emphasis added.)
“Carefully revised by the translator.”
In itself, there is nothing damning about the passage from the Book of Ether, because – as Mormon apologists point out – the language insinuates that Jesus becomes like a spiritual father to the Saints when they become saved and becomes their “father” in a kind of metaphorical way, leaving his biological Father, Ahman, to be their Heavenly Father, also. That is not consistent with the Lectures on Faith passage, but that passage is not canon. But then, there is no passage of the Mormon “Standard Works” that does insist that Jesus is His own Father…anymore.
In 1840, ten years since its first printing, The Book of Mormon underwent some major renovations. Where the original edition’s Title Page had read “By JOSEPH SMITH, JUNIOR. Author and Proprietor”, a newer edition in 1840 read “Translated by JOSEPH SMITH, JR. Third Edition, Carefully Revised By The Translator” though the bulk of the work was shared between the prophet and his brother, Don Carlos. Among those “careful revisions” added by the Smith brothers were changes to the nature of God that had previously been made in an 1837 short-run of The Book of Mormon printed at the request of Parley P. Pratt with input from Oliver Cowdery and purportedly from Joseph Smith.
In 1 Nephi 11:21, for example, the “Angel of the Lord” originally described to Nephi the emergence of Jesus Christ like so: “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!” In Smith’s 1837/1840 “careful revisions”, the words “the Son of” were inserted into the printed version, even though the teaching of Jesus being both Father and Son is consistent with the rest of The Book of Mormon and also with Smith’s sermons, to-date.
In verse 32 of the same, Nephi originally writes “And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the everlasting God…the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world.” Again, the “carefully revised” versions inserted the words “the Son of” into the controversial phrases, fundamentally altering a major point of doctrine. But Smith is not sunk, yet: a Mormon apologist would point to the passage in Ether where Mohonri Moriancumr is taught by Jehovah that Jesus is the Father of the Saved, or in other words that when people become saved through repentance and baptism, they become sons and daughters to Jesus because He makes intercession for them with the Father, they pray in His name and He is the “propitiation” or scapegoat for their sins. As long as this continues to be Mormon theology, there is a convoluted-but-functional way of making Joseph Smith’s God consistent between his Kirtland sermons, The Book of Mormon and his original 1832 version of the First Vision – though by the 1840 “Nauvoo Edition” of The Book of Mormon, the doctrine has been stretched as far as it can feasibly go.
“The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”
The 1842 Times and Seasons article wherein Smith published the First Vision that most Mormons know today came after a lot of very hard challenges against Smith’s legitimacy as a Prophet who actually spoke “face-to-face” with God. The Saints’ expulsion from Ohio and reorganization in Missouri nearly cost Smith his status in his own Church. Elections were proposed and names suggested for candidates who could replace Smith as President of the Church. His friends were no longer as long a list as he had once known and by the 1838 Mormon War, Oliver Cowdery was in outright apostasy, Thomas B. Marsh (President of the Quorum of the Twelve) had publicly accused Smith of raising a seditious army and Smith’s followers were still quite raw in their feelings about the financial ruin that they had suffered in Smith’s failed banking scheme in Kirtland. Even Heber C. Kimball, father of Smith’s youngest “spirit-wife” had recorded that by the time “when the Church was broken up in Kirtland…there were not twenty persons on the earth that would declare that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God.” (Journal of Discourses 4:108). By the time that Don Carlos and Joseph sat to revise Lehi’s Dream, they had seen a tragic death for the failed experiment of Mormonism.
The cult’s resurrection in Illinois had reinvented Smith as a new kind of Prophet: a polytheist who claimed to have seen the Father and the Son simultaneously as independent Beings more consistent with his childhood experiments in pagan and occult ritual than with the scholarly Christian preaching that he had done in Kirtland. With the 1842 draft of the First Vision, Smith had reconstructed Mormonism as being completely unique from Protestantism. In a pattern that would accelerate for the rest of his shortened life, Smith answered critics’ accusations of his extravagant theology by smiting them over the head with increasing extravagance.
By April of 1843, Smith was actively reforming the religion’s most fundamental theological tenets:
“John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false…
“The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” (Doctrine & Covenants 130:3, 22)
“As man is, God once was.”
Most Mormons are familiar with the doctrine of “Heavenly Father” or Ahman having a physical body as a resurrected Man according to the popular Mormon couplet “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become” per Lorenzo Snow. This is as distinct from Lucifer and his minions who are condemned to spirit-bodies for eternity (pictured here as Stephen King without his glasses).
A much more controversial document is Joseph Smith’s 1844 sermon at the funeral of a man who was a popular Mormon figure in Nauvoo that is known as “The King Follet Discourse”. In that document, Smith said:
“My first object is to find out the character of the only wise and true God… let every man and woman henceforth put his hand on his mouth and never say anything against the man of God again. But if I fail, it becomes my duty to renounce all my pretensions to revelations and inspirations…
“I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined that God was God from all eternity…God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did…”
“You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves–to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done–by going from a small degree to another, from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you are able to sit in glory as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power…
“It is to inherit the same glory, the same power, and the same exaltation until you ascend the throne of eternal power the same as those who are gone before. What did Jesus do? Why, I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. I saw my Father work out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom I shall present it to my Father so that he obtains kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt his glory…
“We say that God himself is a self-existing God…Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles?…
“The mind of man is as immortal as God himself…their spirits existed coequal with God, and they now exist in a place where they converse together, the same as we do on the earth…I might with boldness proclaim from the house tops that God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself. Intelligence exists upon a self-existent principle; it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. Moreover, all the spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible to enlargement.” (Joseph Smith, April 7, 1844. “King Follet Discourse”. http://mldb.byu.edu/follett.htm)
Unless The Book of Mormon‘s translator and author are both Joseph Smith.
For years, Mormon apologists have insisted that the Nauvoo-era revelations like the King Follet Discourse and the passage from Doctrine and Covenants must be doctrine because the 1830 edition of The Book of Mormon had to have revisions made by Smith since there were errors that were inserted by E.B. Grandin, the original publisher of The Book of Mormon who was definitively anti-Mormon all of his life.
Indeed, Grandin spoke against The Book of Mormon for the rest of his life, complaining that when Smith and his associates brought the printer’s manuscript to him, it did not have one punctuation mark from cover to cover and they had insisted, at first, that he print it that way. Finally convinced that if the book was to be respected, it should have punctuation, they asked Grandin to punctuate it for them. But would Grandin remove the words “the Son of” from Lehi’s Dream? Why did the Smith brothers “carefully revise” those words back into the text?
As far as anyone has known, the original Printer’s Manuscript said “the Son of the Eternal Father” because no one had access to the whole document…until now.
I don’t see it online, yet but I will update you when I get my hands on the new volume, even if I have to give Mammon my money and buy a printed version of it.
This is a bit of a long road to come to this conclusion, but it is necessary and interesting. If the Printer’s Manuscript says that Jesus is “the Eternal Father” and not “the Son of the Eternal Father,” then not only did Joseph Smith’s understanding of what he saw in the First Vision evolve over the 1830’s, but the authors of The Book of Mormon would have to have been wrong, also and The Book of Mormon wrong in its teachings as a consequence, casting serious doubt on whether it could be Scripture, at all.
None of which makes sense…unless The Book of Mormon‘s translator and author are both Joseph Smith.